Authentic Leadership: A Coaching Perspective

Sep 27, 2023

Authentic Leadership goes beyond positions. It is about the proper use of power, even when dealing with the powerless.

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As a subject, coaching is extremely close to my heart. It’s a journey that I embarked upon, not so long ago and its impact has been tremendous. Not only has it transformed me, but also the people around me very deeply and positively.

My casual encounters with coaching began many years ago, but my true engagement started just twelve months ago. A Saturday afternoon conversation with Ram Ramanathan, co-founder of Coacharya, and an ex-Unilever colleague, got me really excited about the deep potential of coaching. I have personally experienced the transformational effect of coaching–from the lenses of both a coach and a client. In a true sense, I am a coaching beneficiary turned benefactor now. A valuable lesson I have gained as a client and from coaching others is discovering oneself and using that self-awareness to boost personal and team performance while making better decisions.

These testimonies of personal transformation, leading to tangible benefits in work-related success, made me reflect on the role of coaching in enhancing leadership effectiveness. In my corporate career spanning three decades, leading various businesses, teams, and regions, I have closely witnessed an ever-evolving world wherein leadership has taken on a new dimension. It’s no longer just about leading with authority or expertise; it’s about leading with authenticity. Authentic leadership has emerged as a powerful and transformative approach to leadership, one that places personal values, self-awareness, and genuine relationships at its core.

In this blog, I’ll share my personal views of authentic leadership from a coaching perspective. Drawing on my experience as a business leader, coach, and client, I will delve into its principles, benefits, and how coaching can be a catalyst for the development of authentic leaders.

Understanding Authentic Leadership

Several years ago, I found myself in a leadership role that demanded results and efficiency above all else. I believe that is who an effective leader is. I needed to maintain a certain image, one that appeared to be in control. My decisions were often driven by what I thought others expected of me. This approach worked for a while, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was missing. Deep down, I knew that true leadership was more than just outward success; it was about being genuine and leading with authenticity. Coaching has helped me understand myself better and I endeavor to enable the same for my clients. Authentic leadership style emphasizes being true to oneself while leading others. It’s about aligning one’s actions, decisions, and behaviors with their core values, beliefs, and principles.

Here’s how coaching can contribute to authentic leadership development:

Self-Discovery through Coaching

Coaching truly begins with introspection. A poignant moment during my coaching sessions was when my coach asked, “What drives you as a leader?” My initial response was a rehearsed answer about achieving targets, but as we explored and delved deeper, I realized that what truly drove me was the well-being and growth of my team. This revelation was a turning point, and it marked the beginning of my journey towards authentic leadership.

Taking the learnings forward as a coach, I encourage my clients to explore and reflect on their lives, values, and beliefs. Through a series of probing and reflective questions and exercises, they start to uncover their core values and what truly matters to them. A key aspect of coaching is helping leaders define their values and beliefs. I assist leaders in identifying what truly matters to them and how these values can guide their leadership decisions. When leaders have a clear understanding of their values, they can make choices that align with their authentic selves.

 

Authentic Leadership Goals

Coaching sessions are an ideal platform for setting authentic leadership goals. Coaches work with leaders to establish concrete objectives that revolve around being more authentic in their leadership style.

Through coaching, one of my clients uncovered her tendency to be excessively perfectionistic, which was impeding her team’s creativity and morale. As she explored her values and beliefs further, she realized that she developed this behavior to gain approval from her superiors. As the coaching sessions progressed, she took tangible steps to shift her leadership style. She started by sharing her authentic self with her team, admitting her perfectionistic tendencies, and explaining her desire for their success. She began to trust her team more, giving them the autonomy to make decisions and learn from their mistakes.

Over time, she noticed a remarkable change in her team’s dynamics. They felt empowered, more engaged, and their innovative ideas began to flow freely. Her authentic leadership style not only improved her team’s performance but also earned her respect and trust from her colleagues and superiors.

 

Building Emotional Intelligence

Authentic leadership requires emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions, as well as understand others’ emotions. I have personally worked on increasing my knowledge of emotions. Understanding your emotions and labeling them are potent ways to regulate negative emotions. As a coach, I help leaders enhance their emotional intelligence, which is essential for authentic leadership.

There is one story of transformation that has stayed with me to date where one of my clients hugely benefited from active and empathetic listening. For a person who was a chronic multi-tasker, struggling to stay in the present moment, she realized the importance of being tuned to herself and her team members’ emotions. It enabled her to connect with her team on a deeper level, fostering trust and authenticity. She learned to empathize with her team members, manage conflicts, and foster positive relationships.

 

Developing Resilience

Leaders often face challenges and resistance. Coaching helps leaders develop resilience by teaching them how to stay true to their values and principles in the face of adversity. Leaders learn to bounce back from setbacks and use challenges as opportunities for growth. One of my clients aimed to foster open communication with his team. He found it difficult to open up, which influenced his team’s culture of feeling pressured to know everything. In our coaching sessions, he created an action plan for creating a safe space for honest conversations. Gradually, he mustered the courage to share his own vulnerabilities, showing the team that it was okay not to have all the answers.

As he started to implement these changes, he noticed a shift in his team’s dynamics. They became more engaged, more willing to take on new challenges, share their ideas, and be more committed to the team’s collective success. It became evident that authentic leadership wasn’t just about him—it was about creating an environment where everyone could thrive.

 

The Transformation and Its Impact

The transformation in my leadership style or that of my clients didn’t happen overnight, but it was profound. I now lead with a sense of purpose that goes beyond targets and metrics. I recognize the need to lead with empathy, transparency, and a genuine desire to see my team members succeed.

One of the most rewarding moments came during a team meeting. A team member approached me and said, “I appreciate your openness and how you respect our input. It makes me feel heard and valued.” Those words resonated deeply with me, as they signaled that my journey toward authentic leadership was making a real impact on my team’s well-being.

 

The Journey Continues

My journey towards authentic leadership has been a transformative experience. Coaching played an instrumental role in helping me uncover my true values, beliefs, and leadership potential. It’s an ongoing journey, one that I’m committed to pursuing because I’ve been a firsthand witness to the positive impact it has on me, my team, and the organization as a whole.

I share my story not as a finished product but as a testament to the power of coaching and the possibilities that await when we lead with authenticity. I encourage every leader to embark on their own journey of self-discovery and authentic leadership. This path not only yields substantial professional rewards but also brings personal fulfillment and creates a meaningful impact.

Akhil Saxena
Akhil Saxena

Akhil Saxena

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